Le Cordon Bleu Complete Cook
Published by Thunder Bay Press
576 pages, 2002
Reviewed by Monica Stark
As the year winds down, food gets to be more important. Almost every culture and every religion celebrates some type of food-related holiday deep in the year. The type of holiday that makes you wonder if your repertoire will be up to snuff.
If you're currently wondering, Le Cordon Bleu Complete Cook will do nothing to allay your doubts. It may, however, provide fodder for overcoming them. This is, after all, the bomb. The real deal. When it comes to western cookery, Cordon Bleu has the final word. Period. Forget the C.I.A. (Culinary Institute of America? Pishaw.) In fact, forget anything anyone -- anyone not Cordon Bleu trained, that is -- ever told you. You've heard it before: a chef may be "professionally trained" but if he's "Cordon Bleu" it's a whole different level. As though from a different -- and far superior -- planet.
Appropriately, Le Cordon Bleu Complete Cook doesn't mess around with false modesty:
By the 1950s, Le Cordon Bleu represented not only the highest level of culinary training but had become a symbol of Paris itself. ... For over a century Le Cordon Bleu has grown to become a leading authority on culinary techniques, training and development.
Before you become intimidated to the point of freaking out, remember two simple -- but all important -- facts:
1. The very best food tends to be the simplest to prepare.
2. Le Cordon Bleu is only concerned with the best food.
And while there are deeply complicated recipes in Le Cordon Bleu Complete Cook, don't choose to make those. At least, not at the outset. With this cookbook, as with any other, look over a recipe carefully before you begin. Make sure you have all of the necessary ingredients on hand, of course. But, also, make sure the project you've chosen is one you feel you can handle. If your heart is pounding and your palms are sweating, perhaps your body is giving you a sign that this isn't the right recipe to start with. And just as the master house builder must begin by sanding door jambs, the master chef begins by cutting vegetables. And the master home chef might start with something lovely but modest, like Beef Stroganoff and then work up from there -- naturally, gradually -- to more complicated, more masterful, dishes.
Le Cordon Bleu Complete Cook is not a perfect book. The food styling is bland and dated looking. Most of the food looks appetizing, but it certainly doesn't look as good as it could. Also, since Le Cordon Bleu is -- arguably -- the most respected cooking school in the world, it would make sense for their premiere book to at least disguise itself as some sort of mini-course in book form. You know: beginning with simple basics (vegetables, sauces) and helping us work our way to doing various complicated things to lobsters and other pricey sea creatures.
While all of these things are included in Le Cordon Bleu Complete Cook, they're not delivered to the reader in anything that resembles course form. There are sections on equipment and various techniques, but these are very basic and seem almost included as an aside rather than the heart of the book. You don't imagine Le Cordon Bleu Complete Cook as being a student text in the way that, say, Larousse Gastronomique so obviously is. That said, Larousse is clearly intended for those already on their way to being master chefs, while Le Cordon Bleu Complete Cook will likely help the more novice chef actually make good food. And, in the end, isn't that what it's really all about? | November 2002
Monica Stark is a January Magazine contributing editor.